Tiruvannamalai

The Land of Arunachala

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Tiruvannamalai is a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at a distance of about 190 Km from the capital city of Chennai. This small town is something of a hidden gem in a region overwhelmed by significant temples. Blessed by the presence of hill Arunachala, it is an important Shaivite town where Shiva is revered as Arunachaleshwar, an aspect of fire. On every full moon day, this town is thronged by thousands of pilgrims who circumnavigate the base of the mountain Arunachala; an act which is considered to be auspicious. Even on a normal day, gathering of saints and devotees are a common sight.

Places of Spiritual Significance

Sri Ramana Ashram (Ramanasramam)

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Sri Ramana Ashram is the spiritual hub of Tiruvannamalai wherein seekers and devotees from all over the world come to visit the Samadhi shrine of Sri Ramana Maharishi for spiritual inspiration and blessings. Ramana Maharshi was a realized saint of towering stature who lived in the first half of twentieth century. He was born near Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu in the year 1879. At the age of 17, he had a death experience wherein he witnessed the whole process of death occurring to him. As the experience unfolded, he found that even though his body was lying lifeless, he was still there as a witness to the whole scene. That became the moment of his self-realization. After that profound experience, he happened to hear about Mount Arunachala from his relative and felt an instant attraction. He left his home for Tiruvannamalai, the abode of Arunachala and remained there for the rest of his life. In the initial years of his stay in Tiruvannamalai, he hardly spoke and remained on the hill, completely oblivious of the body and its requirements. As time progressed, devotees started gathering around him, attracted by his peaceful presence and thus came a time when the Ramana Ashram came into existence. During his lifetime, and even after his Mahasamadhi, this place continues to be a source of spiritual inspiration and guidance for the seekers spanning across the globe. He taught mostly in silence and gave the direct method of self-enquiry for the perception of truth.

Mount Arunachala

Arunachala-Hill-Tiruvannamalai

Arunachala occupies the central seat in the town of Tiruvannamalai, both geographically and historically. Aruna, which means red, bright like fire, does not signify the mere fire that gives off heat. Rather, it means Jnanagni, the Fire of Wisdom, which is neither hot nor cold. Achala signifies hill. Thus, Arunachala means Hill of Wisdom.

As per the Hindu scripture Puranas, it is considered to be the manifestation of Shiva in the light form. Shiva had declared, “As the moon derives its light from the sun, so other holy places shall derive their sanctity from Arunachala. This is the only place where I have taken this form for the benefit of those who wish to worship me and obtain illumination. Arunachala is OM itself. I will appear on the summit of this hill every year at Karthigai (which usually falls in October-November) in the form of a peace-giving beacon.”

So during Karthigai (also known as Deepam), a beacon light of clarified butter (ghee) is lit at nightfall on the summit of the mountain. This festival draws large number of pilgrims from all over South India and many parts of the world. The circumference of hill is about 14 km and its circumambulation is considered to be highly auspicious. Every full moon day, devotees from nearby villages and towns assemble in large numbers for the circumambulation of the hill. There are two paths for the circumambulation: outer and inner. Outer path is the asphalted road whereas the inner path goes through the hill. Most of the devotees prefer the outer path because there are many temples on the way. Sri Ramana Maharshi adored Arunachala like none other and called it the Spiritual Heart of the world.

Arunachaleshwara Temple

Arunachaleshwara-Temple-Tiruvannamalai

Arunachaleshwara Temple is spread over 24 acres and is the second largest Shiva temple in India. Arunachaleshwara Temple is believed to be at least 2000 years old, with the Gopurams (towers) and stone structure dating back 1200 years. Shiva, the presiding deity is worshipped as Arunachaleshwara and is represented as Agni (fire) lingam manifesting the fire element; fire is one of the five elements which according to the Hindus constitute the human body. Shiva’s consort Parvati is worshipped as Unnamalai Amman. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period. The temple has six daily rituals at various times from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and twelve yearly festivals on its calendar.

Virupaksha Cave

Virupaksha-Cave-Tiruvannamalai

Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed at various places in Tiruvannamalai and then in several caves on the Arunachala Hill. He finally settled at what came to be called Sri Ramanasramam where he lived until his Mahanirvana in April 1950. Ramana Maharshi lived for a period of 17 years in Virupaksha Cave which is on the south-east slope of Arunachala. Devotees and seekers visit this cave for meditation.

Skandashramam

Skandashramam-Tiruvannamalai

In the beginning of 1916, Azhagammal, mother of Sri Ramana Maharshi came to Tiruvannamalai, determined to spend the rest of her life with Sri Ramana. Soon after his mother’s arrival, Ramana moved from Virupaksha to Skandashramam, a little higher up the hill. It is over here his mother received intense training in spiritual life. She started to cook for the small group of devotees who were staying there. This is the place where Maharshi lived for almost 6 years before finally settling down at the foot of the hill where his mother’s body was cremated and where eventually Sri Ramanasramam came into existence.

Seshadri Swami Ashram

Seshadri-Swami-Ashram-Tiruvannamalai

Seshadri Swami Ashram enshrines the Samadhi tomb of illumined saint Seshadri Swami who was a contemporary of Sri Ramana Maharshi. He was known as Saint with the golden hand. He was born in January, 1870 in the Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. As a child he would perform rituals, sing devotional songs and sit in meditation for long, absorbed in divine communion. At the age of 19, he met Sri Balaji Swami, a wandering saint from North India, who initiated him into Sannyas (monkhood) and instructed him in the Mahavakyas. This was the only formal initiation Seshadri Swami is known to have had. Shortly after his initiation, he embarked upon pilgrimage to various places in Tamil Nadu and eventually reached Tiruvannamalai wherein he stayed till the very end of his life. In Tiruvannamalai, he roamed like a madman with no regard for cloth, food and public opinion. Sometimes he would take no food at all and on other occasions consume enough for ten people. He would eat and drink like one swallowing medicine or one being forcibly fed. To prevent crowds building up around him, he would go on speaking very fast, without any respite and with no end or meaning. Sometimes if someone spoke to him, he would reply in Sanskrit, not caring if he was understood or not. His miraculous touch is said to have cured many of those who came to him with devotion. While roaming the streets of Tiruvannamalai, he would sometimes enter a shop and dump the cash from the cashbox or throw the articles from the shops. These shops would do good business on that day and so shop keepers would eagerly await his arrival. To this day, the shops in Tiruvannamalai keep his photographs as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Having lived in Tiruvannamalai for 40 years he finally left his body in the month of January, 1929. This ashram is located very close to Sri Ramanasramam.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram

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Yogi Ramsuratkumar was another illumined saint of Tiruvannamalai who lived here for almost 42 years. He was popularly known as Visiri Swamiyar. He was born in Nardara near Varanasi and since his childhood showed deep inclination towards spiritual dimension. As a child, he would spend most of his time on the bank of Ganges with Sadhus and would love listening to their devotional songs and mythological stories. At the age of 29, he could no longer resist his yearning for divine communion and left his home in the search of a Guru who could guide him. His search took him to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Ramana Maharshi. Both had deep impact on his spiritual evolution but ultimately it was Swami Ramdas from whom he received initiation in mantra which according to him had an instant effect on his consciousness. Regular practice of the mantra finally led him to the permanent state of divine communion. From 1952 to 1959, he wandered to different places in India and it was in 1959 that he arrived in Tiruvannamalai and remained here till the very end of his life. For the first 18 years he lived under trees in the daytime and spent his night near the Arunachaleshwara Temple. Eventually people started realizing his divinity and more and more people started gathering near him. His devotees then got this ashram constructed so that more people can have his darshan at a time. People had miraculous healing, divine vision and some felt ineffable peace in his presence. He called himself beggar and would never take credit of any such incidence happening in his presence and would often say that it is all because of Father’s grace and one’s own faith. He attained Mahasamadhi in 2001. The Ashram temple is the place of his Samadhi shrine. His belongings are kept in the ashram for display.

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